Mega Transport Projects as
 ‘Organic’ Phenomena

MTPs are ‘organic’ phenomena (rather than static engineering artefacts) that often need ‘time to breathe’. This time for reflection can present special opportunities that should be seized and exploited by key decision-makers.

Against the background of the OMEGA case study projects, it is clear that most MTPs are subject to an ‘organic’, evolutionary process that often produces fundamental change in the raison d’etre or scope/scale of the project and/or the thinking behind plans for the areas they impact upon. This organic process is frequently necessary to enable MTPs to respond to changing contexts, ideas, political agendas and visions of future possibilities.

Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway

Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway, Japan

Given the organic characteristics of MTP developments, whereby such projects cease to be seen as essentially static engineering artefacts, and given the period of reflection (‘time to breathe’) they often require in decision-making (particularly for larger and more complex projects), the long gestation period that is commonly experienced need not necessarily be considered ineffective.

Aspects of this lesson about the organic nature of infrastructure networks are reflected in the writing of Mitchell and Rapkin (1954), Meier (1962), Graham and Marvin (2001), Alexander (2001) and Batty (2005). In certain cases, fast tracking of projects can indeed prove lethal if insufficient time has been allowed to absorb/deal with the numerous issues they need to address. Contrasting examples of the use of a
time to breathe period can be illustrated by three of the OMEGA case studies, as follows: An illustration of the good use
of the time to breathe was the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway which, during
a period of national economic difficulties during the 1990s that resulted in a more protracted implementation programme, saw the introduction of more efficient and highly successful technical innovations that effectively reduced costs, and opposition (on environmental grounds) by local communities.

Boston, USA

Conversely, examples of when a period such as this was not well managed are highlighted by both: the Big Dig in Boston where, after four years of disagreement over the design
for the crossing of the Charles River, the Transportation Secretary had to intervene, and; the Jubilee Line Extension, where the project was put on hold for 18 months following the collapse of private sector funding while the government sought a contribution to the overall (project) costs from the private sector.


Westminster Underground Station

Jubilee Line, London

Mega Transport Project Considerations

MTP planning, appraisal and delivery agents need to acknowledge the evolutionary nature of many/most such projects (especially those with clear ‘agent of change’ roles), and in so doing:

  • Recognise that many MTPs and the plans, programmes and projects they spawn will often need to evolve in response to changing contextual influences that exert themselves over the (often lengthy) project lifecycle;
  • This requires frequent, and very deliberate opportunities to re-assess and debate the very raison d’être of the project and its attendant plans and programmes in conjunction with all key stakeholders. Such re-assessments should encompass a re-examination (and monitoring) of all key project objectives and introduce the ability to more readily incorporate newly ‘emerging objectives’ hitherto unanticipated but which become the new yardsticks for assessing ‘success’;
  • More carefully manage the ‘time to breathe’ periods (where they exist) to avoid the misuse of resources and to identify the potentially precious opportunities for beneficial change;
  • Acknowledge that such opportunities may present themselves when contextual influences are ‘right’ (i.e., when the ‘planets are aligned’) to take decisive action, thereby making constant context scanning of paramount importance;
  • Similarly, acknowledge that the ability to control every aspect of project planning and delivery is often fundamentally undermined by ‘happenstance’ (i.e. unforeseen circumstance) and that ‘crisis management’ in response to such circumstances is not only an understandable response it is also often (although not always) implemented in a laudable manner that demonstrates an expertise and capability that warrants much greater appreciation/respect (especially by politicians and the media);
  • Prepare flexible, robust and adaptable strategies for MTP developments that are able to address and respond to the complexities they pose, especially in relation to their interaction with the areas and sectors they impact upon. Such strategies need to particularly acknowledge the seeming ‘inevitability’ of unexpected occurrences/ decisions/outcomes arising from both within and outside the project; and
  • Abandon the notion that the fundamental raison d’etre of MTPs and their attendant agent of change objectives must necessarily be firmly fixed at the outset (and must remain so over time).

Consequently, notwithstanding the significance of this lesson, it is important to note that this time for reflection should be well managed so as to ensure a genuine re-examination of past decisions and future direction involving key MTP stakeholders.

As a corollary, we suggest that there is a need for those involved in MTP developments to positively embrace the possibilities/opportunities associated with evolutionary (emergent) change(s), rather than insisting that original project visions, concepts and objectives must necessarily remain firmly fixed in all cases. This calls for action from key actors, as shown above.


References (Cited Authors)

Mitchell, R. B. and C. Rapkin, C. (1954), Urban Traffic: A Function of Land Use, Columbia University Press, New York.

Meier, R. (1962), A Communications Theory of Urban Growth. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Graham, S. and S. Marvin (2001), Splintering Urbanism, Routledge, London.

Alexander, C. (2001), The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe, The Centre for Environmental Structure, Berkeley, California.

Batty, M. (2005), Cities and Complexity: Understanding cities with cellular automata, agent- based models and fractals, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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